Archive for August, 2009

“Things I remember but have gone missing now – Pt 1”

August 28, 2009

1. Shredded Wheat came in a box with pasteboard dividers.  These dividers had really neat things to do on them – games, cutouts, puzzles and the like. My brother and I would carefully cut out and play all the various games that came on the cards.  Some of the time, the actual box the biscuits came in was part of the game. The box itself was not a tall box but, instead, squat and contained three levels of four biscuits each.

2. While we are speaking about cereal: Cereal boxes used to have waxed paper inserts that you could actually roll down and seal to keep the cereal fresh much longer than today.  My major complaint is that the modern replacement is very hardy and nothing short of a sharp knife (or incisors) will tear it.  Usually what happens to me is that I will get frustrated and give a mighty rip – which, of course, spews cereal all over the floor.

3. Corporal punishment meted out by school principals. I touched on this in one of my earlier blog entries – I’m for it.  I was on the receiving end of several swats usually for being tardy.  When you are walking to class, usually through deep snow, you tend to dawdle.  Well, it was deep to ME.

4. Do kids still make Cootie Catchers?  These were fun to make from a sheet of paper.  You folded it in such a way that there were four triangular sections that, when held by four of your fingers, they could be opened in two different ways:  one way would show “You’re Clean” and the other would show “COOTIES!”. Guess which one a boy would show to a girl.

5. Crystal radios.  I built a crystal radio from a small kit.  It didn’t pick up much because my cat-whisker wouldn’t stay on the same spot and tended to bounce around a bit.  When that happened you might get switched from Gang Busters to Our Miss Brooks without realizing it and wonder why that nice little girl was getting machine-gunned.

6. Little 25-cent balsa gliders.  That’s all they cost.  You’d go to the drug store and they’d hang from hooks near the cash register.  Opening the packet, the first thing you pulled out was the fuselage, then the wing, horizontal stabilizer and, finally, the vertical stabilizer.  What usually happened was that after a few flights the leading edges of the wings would have so many dings that controlled flight was impossible.  A variation of this type of plane was the ‘slingshot’ plane.  The wings folded back and you shot the whole plane into the air using a slingshot.  When forward motion was arrested by air pressure, the wings would flap out and the plane would soar.

7. Radio and Television shows (when there WAS TV) that actually entertained kids instead of dumbing them down and being oh so politically correct. I’m talking about the likes of Howdy Doody, Pinky Lee, and Uncle John’s Saturday Morning Show.  These shows all had stuff that made you laugh; pratfalls, pie-in-the-face funny. Nowadays I hear that there are huge divided camps on whether Bert and Ernie are gay.  Who cares, they’re funny.

8. School bus stops where THEY wanted them, not where YOU wanted them.  In my whole school bus experience I never was without an “assigned” school bus stop.  When we arrived in Washington, D.C. the first order of business for me was to find out where my stop was.  Turns out, it was at the other end of my street – a good 600 yards away and NOT right in front of my house solely because I needed to be picked up there.  And, while we’re at it, does anyone remember the Gestapo-like kids assigned as “School Patrol”?  They would get to wear white “Sam Browne” belts with silver badges on them which, naturally, gave them the right to boss you around.

9. Somewhere, there might still be Ice cream trucks running around.  I haven’t heard one around my neighborhood for over 15 years.  As a kid, all of us would keep anywhere from a dime to a fifty-cent piece (depending on whether or not you had a girlfriend) in your pocket ready to hand over when you heard the tinkling of the row of bells over the windshield.  Electronic bells replaced the mechanical ones, and then the whole truck disappeared.

10. Curb feelers on cars.  My dad was a firm believer in curb feelers.  These were wire contraptions that you fastened to the front and back quarter panels of the passenger side of your car.  They would assist you in parallel parking by giving out with a sound like you’d hit a garbage can when they contacted the curb.  No matter that if there wasn’t a curb – it was the fact that you HAD feelers that made you cool.

11. Lincoln automobiles pioneered the Continental kits.  This consisted of putting the spare tire on the back of the car right over, or attached to, the back bumper.  It contained your spare tire in a clamshell arrangement and looked pretty neat.

12. Our neighbor bought a new 1951 Cadillac that had an automatic headlight dimmer.  This was an eye-shaped device that sat on the dashboard in front of the driver and “looked” down the road.  It was a photoelectric cell that would dim your lights when the lights of an oncoming car struck it.  A great innovation – had it worked.  What usually happened was that your car would go down a road and flash your headlights like a demented signalman every time the light from an overhead streetlight struck the cell.

13. Column shifts.  The first car I ever drove was a 1957 Chevy owned by my best friend.  It had a column shift.  This meant that in place of all the other levers and whatnot that now sprouts from your steering wheel there was only one lever; on the right side.  To get to first gear you lifted up and pulled back, then engaged the clutch.  Similarly, you then pushed forward and into second gear.  Then you pulled back and let the lever drop through neutral and into third gear somewhere near your lap.  To get to reverse, you pushed up and forward from neutral.

14. For that perfect date Ice cream sodas with 2 straws was invented.  One would squire your girl to a place called a Soda Shop(pe) and sit at a counter.  Then, you’d order whatever flavor you wanted plus: “oh yeah, two straws”.  The counterman (“person” hadn’t been invented yet) would smile and drop in two straws.  Holding your foreheads together you’d stare into each others eyes and sip.

15. Drive-in movies.  I miss the heck out of these.  It was a constant battle usually between the owners of such things and the kids who tried to outsmart them.  Whole back seats would be torn out to give room in the trunk for at least 10 or 12 kids on dollar night.  As in normal theatres, the rear rows were “reserved” for the make-out artists.  With constant use, the speakers would get horribly scratchy and, on occasion, refuse to work.  This meant that the person in the next car would put his speaker on the outside and let both cars hear.  Sneaking up on cars with steamed windows was an education in itself.

16. Drive-in fast food where cute girls on roller skates took your order. We had one when I was in High School that was featured in the movie “American Graffiti” – Arnold’s.  It was in Santa Rosa, California, and we used to drive up there every Friday and Saturday from Petaluma to hang around.  It was THE social center of teen life.  And, yes, we did listen to Wolfman Jack. Petaluma, by the way, was featured in most of the rest of the movie.

17. Bowling alleys with live pinsetters. I was a pinsetter in Germany.  It was a great job and netted me much more than my allowance ever did.  It was hard work though and you had to remember just how the pins were set when the first ball smashed its way through.  If a pin was moved to the side – but not knocked over – you’d have to lower the gate halfway and wait for the bowler at the other end to shout out the pin number he wanted it set to. Tipping was effected by sliding change down the alley, or sticking a bill (rare, except for servicemen) in a ball hole and rolling it down.

18. C-rations. As a Boy Scout we took many hikes, float trips, and other means of getting around the countryside.  Usually before we left we would load up our knapsacks with C-rations.  We would hold contests to see who got the oldest cans of ‘prepared foods, military, one each’.  I once won with a can of purportedly “ham and lima beans” that was date-stamped 1944. The scoutmaster would always make sure, however, that the can containing the cigarettes was ‘missing’.  The C-rations would come in a square box with eight cans in it: 4 on top, a layer of cardboard, and 4 on the bottom (with the aforementioned cigarette can missing).  In contrast to what are now served (MRE’s), C-rations were pretty good.

19. Deep quarry pools & skinny dipping.  In summer we would venture through the “Big Woods” and across Military Highway to what we kids called ‘the quarry’.  It was actually a quarry from long ago and had deep pools filled with cold, clear, water.  Parents would warn their kids to stay away from the quarry, but we would regularly ignore them – and they knew it.  Some of us more adventurous ones would slip over very early in the morning or late at night and go skinny dipping.  If you’ve never done it, then you don’t know how exhilarating it can be to strip your clothes off on a steamy 95-degree evening and dive into 12-degree water; guaranteed to make your outboard motor fall off.

20. I know the reason – economics 101 – why theatres don’t do this BUT I sorely miss cartoons, newsreels, and serials before the main feature on Saturday.  Speaking as a parent, I would love it if our local theatre would bring back this traditional babysitter if even for just an odd Saturday a month.  My parents would herd everyone in the neighborhood that would fit into our station wagon and make the run to Silver Spring to the Naylor Theatre.  There, we would all stream out, money held in our hot little hands, and storm the ticket booth for entry.  After 30 or 40 cartoons, serials, and blatant kid-oriented ads, we would be treated to at least one, or usually two, feature-length movies. Horror, Science Fiction, and Westerns were about all we saw.

T.O.M.

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I’ll be dog-gone’d

August 22, 2009

As I mentioned in an earlier blog (https://tom1950.wordpress.com/2009/03/26/), I was under training by an old sled driver by the name of Jed to ultimately drive some of his dogs.  I had made friends with his lead dog, Bruno, and several of the others and I was now able to hitch them up by myself and go for rides in the wintry twilight.

I am sure that my youthful exuberance was being observed by Jed as just a vicarious re-living of his early life because he was very fond of telling me that I reminded him of him.  He was approaching his mid-seventies and couldn’t get around as well as he would have wanted so I found myself taking him places from time to time.

One morning, during Christmas vacation, after the sun had peeked over the tundra (about 10AM), he called to me in my back yard and asked if I wanted to go on a trip along his trap lines.  Quickly securing permission from my mom I wrapped myself up tightly and slogged through the snow to his back yard.  Bruno bounded over to me and seemed to ask “hey?  Are we going out?”  He knew for sure when I started gathering the bridles and chains to hitch the dogs up.

Being careful to unchain only one dog at a time from their houses, because that’s how dog fights start, I hooked four dogs and then added Bruno as lead.  They immediately began their ritual of stretching, licking snow, and generally preparing for a run.

Jed stepped out of his house carrying a small brown box which he laid in the bed of the sled and covered with a blanket.

“Here’s some food – for us – moose jerky, a couple of carrots, a loaf of bread, and a thermos of hot chocolate”, he explained.  Next he reached into the dog food bin and grabbed about six frozen salmon and stacked them in the sled like cordwood: “For the dogs.”

After adding two pairs of snowshoes (He had made me a special pair about half the size of his), a nice bearskin blanket and two bottles of water to the pile he climbed in and nested himself down.  I handed him the bearskin and he tucked it all around.

“Whenever you’re ready” he said, “we can get started.”

We navigated out from his back yard and down the road we went.  For the first mile or so we took things easy until the dogs got up to temperature.  A good sled dog will try valiantly to do everything you tell him to do so if you push them hard right away they can become lame with cramps and the like.

The first several miles were on city streets, but then we swerved past Weeks Field and out into the tundra heading for Jed’s trap lines.  He had run his trap line for almost 40 years, starting just after the turn of the century, and maintained it every year.  Where we were going, nobody but him had been there for a number of years and now he has taking me; and I was driving.

Since trees were a rarity in this area, we could see quite a ways into the distance.  On this morning, there was a slight ground fog that appeared in depressions and it would seem strange to be whooshing along, throwing snow to the side, and then descend into a depression and get completely enveloped in a white shroud of fog.  The dogs knew where they were going though, especially Bruno.

After about ten miles, Jed had me stop at the shore of a small, shallow, lake.  We inspected it and Jed found that it was unsafe to run over so we detoured around it to the stream exiting from the other side.  It was this stream where Jed had his traps.

A word here about his traps; Jed used to use leg-hold traps for quite a few years but was ultimately convinced by his fellow trappers that a live trap was much better if, for no other reason, than an intact pelt was worth more.  He found that to be true and never went back to the old style.

We parked the sled, tethered the dogs, threw them some salmon chunks and strapped on our snowshoes.  Since this was about a week after a rather good snowfall, the depth was only around fourteen to twenty inches.  I was light enough so that I managed to pace over the top of the crust most of the time.  Jed, on the other hand, had to resort to the aptly-named ‘shuffle hop’ style of movement.  This was very hard on your calf and thigh muscles so we would stop from time to time and rest.

At strategic points along the stream Jed and I would place a trap.  This involved making sure it was free of human scent.  Jed had a bottle of really bad smelling stuff that he sprinkled over the set trap so as to kill our scent.  After sniffing this liquid it was easy to see why an animal couldn’t smell humans – or anything else.  It was really terrible.

His traps were stored flat under the center of the sled on a special shelf and when he was ready to set it he would pop it into shape and click the trigger into the bait.  This had to be done only after the trap was staked to the ground.  It wouldn’t do to have an animal get trapped and another bigger animal come along and drag the trap off.

His main targets were rabbits, muskrats, beavers, and other small mammals.  We placed twelve traps during the day; working our way down one bank of the stream and back up the other.  Around 3PM, we again reached the lake.  As the sun started to fall towards the horizon we reluctantly (on my part anyway) headed for home.  The dogs sensed we were headed that way and practically skipped across the crusted snow.

The next two days passed very slowly for me as I anticipated our return trip to check the traps.  This time, I would be running a sled by myself as Jed ran a second one to contain any animals we may have trapped.  He let me have Bruno as lead for my sled and put another young dog on his sled for training.  His dogs got into a fearful brawl and only after some swearing, whupping, and pushing was he able to sort things out.  He said that one of the other dogs challenged his choice of lead.  I guess that the saying is true:  “If you aren’t the lead dog, the scenery never changes”.

Finally, we were on our way again.  Jed broke trail and I followed up with our provisions in a smaller sled with just three dogs.  He pronounced the lake frozen enough so we were able to cut a half-hour off our trip to the stream.  Once the dogs were staked and fed, we strapped our snowshoes on again and set out.

The first trap we reached had a nice muskrat in it which was dispatched quickly with Jed’s little 22 caliber single-shot pistol.  Although he always carried a larger handgun on his hip for defense the only thing he would use on a trapped animal was the 22.  He explained that it didn’t mess up the pelt any that way.  That made sense to me.

It was hard work dragging the accumulated animal carcasses and the traps with us in the deep snow, but we finally returned to the dogs.  Our total take for twelve traps was nine animals: two rabbits, five muskrats, and two little weasels.  After we ate some food, I strapped the frozen animals on my sled and we mushed our way back to town.  When we arrived, I drove past our house and called for my parents to see what we had.  Both my mom and dad thought it was quite a haul.  My dad came over and helped us skin and stretch the pelts.

That night, I lay in bed listening to the lonely howling of Jed’s dogs as they serenaded the flashing lights in the sky.  I will never forget hearing those long, drawn out, calls to each other.

Under Jed’s instruction, I managed to make some really great rabbit pelt gloves.  They turned out really well and very warm.  You wore them under normal gloves with the fur turned inside because the rabbit skin was so thin.  I was able to wear those gloves for two years before they wore out.

T.O.M.

Camp Tapakegga Death March

August 18, 2009

During my scouting days, we would visit Camp Tapakegga over in Virginia for a two week period of what was euphemistically related to us as ‘a chance to meet other scouts in the spirit of camaraderie’ by our Scoutmaster.  What we invariably heard was ‘a chance to mess with our enemies minds’.  To be fair, he was a very jolly fellow that saw the best in everyone he met.  In keeping with his jolly-ness, he was rather short in stature and bald of head.  He was always dressed in an impeccable scout uniform with full trappings down to a silver whistle around his neck on a braided lanyard.  You simply had to like the guy – and we did.

The second trip to this camp one summer took place about a month before we were to report to school for the year.  This meant that in Washington DC, the temperatures were ranging from hot to parboil, but in the deep jungles of Virginia at altitude the days were significantly cooler.  We looked forward to this as much as we could if only to get some relief from trying to play while being encased in ninety-five percent humidity on days of over ninety degrees.

This trip was to be an exceptional trip because we were told that what we termed the ‘Girls Auxiliary’ would also get to go, albeit to a camp about five miles away (and over a mountain).  Now, with us being boys and the girls, er, being, er, girls, we indulged ourselves in quite a bit of fantasy regarding any activities that might get us together.  This, we were told in no uncertain terms, was Strictly Verboten.  Well, we thought, there were various levels of Verboten.

In due course the appointed time to load up the busses arrived and we all sausaged ourselves into them with all our accompanying baggage.  It appeared as if an entire division of Marines was embarking on some assault if looks were to be believed.  An entire twenty-four person bus was loaded to the gills with our tents and common kitchen utensils and whatever other items we would need for this campaign.  The rest of us climbed into whichever bus we were assigned and stowed our personal gear in the back (making sure it was over the wheels for weight distribution).

With a Forward, YO, we got underway in four busses, seven private cars, and a step van with all our food.  In what could have been a tactical error, the seven private cars held all the counselors and chaperones save one on each bus.  For reasons known only to them, they stayed right in the very front seat of the bus and conversed only with the driver.  This was fine with us because we had to decide our strategy and this could only be done behind their backs as it were.  I was a patrol leader and had nine others under me.  We were very good friends and, even though we quibbled a bit among ourselves, we wouldn’t let anyone mess with us.  About ten minutes into the trip we huddled in the back of our bus and began plotting.

The trip seemed interminable but we finally arrived at Camp Tapakegga and began setting up our gear.  A few hours later, after minutes of hard work on our part, camp was set up and ready to receive our personal gear.  Patrols were to be together in one area in a circle around a common messing area.  This was so that no matter where you were around the circle, the smoke from the fire would invade your tent and force you out at some time during the morning or evening.

After finishing the evening dinner, washing the dishes, and incinerating marshmallows on the altar of fire we were told to hit the sack.  Following a half-hour battle in which we all played the part of sleeping bag monsters and crawled like inchworms into each others tents, we were told to “knock that crap off” in no uncertain terms after one of us inadvertently knocked over a counselors tent.  He was heard to mutter something about it being a long two weeks.

Next morning, bright and chipper, we emerged from our cocoons and did a short hop-step over the cold ground to the latrines and washed up for breakfast.  What, we exclaimed, where was our breakfast?  Fix it ourselves?!? Oh, yeah, right – no moms here.

I am sure that somewhere it is written that half-baked biscuits, eggs over and over and over and over until you could use them to patch a tire, blackened hunks of what used to be bread, bacon crisps, and what the Navy still calls “bug juice”, will feed a hungry boy for a day filled with adventures.  This is not true, but there was nothing we could do to get more to eat.

After opening ceremonies such as a really horrible bugler scaring the flag up the pole, we were parsed out into our working groups for activities.  Some of us got the task of putting up a rope bridge over the twelve-inch deep, fifteen foot wide creek while others went out on a gathering expedition for ‘food that grows in the forest which you can eat but won’t kill you’.  My patrol was among the latter.  We started out actually gathering, but then began to fantasize crossing the mountain and dropping into the girls camp.

Armed with a pretty good topographical map of the area, Don, our resident pathfinder (because he was the only one who had a decent compass) started us out on the path to the girl’s camp on the other side of the mountain – Camp Nirvana.  I can read a map better than most because my dad dealt with maps every day.  Granted, they were weather maps, but I knew which end was north and those other three directions.  I began to get a tad worried when we appeared to be getting further away from the mountain.  I noticed this only because it was constantly over my left shoulder.

In consultation with the map and making sure that Don knew it was the RED end of the needle that pointed north, we all reversed our direction of travel and once again headed out for Camp Nirvana.  What the heck, we’d only wasted an hour.  We passed the general area of our encampment and struck out in new territory towards our goal.  Higher and higher we climbed until we began to hang onto tree trunks to pull ourselves up the hill.  We stopped and rested while bandaging the head of one of my men who had been beaned by a rock rolling down the hill.  He appeared comforted when I told him that head wounds bleed much more than any other type of wound.

Just as I began to think we should rope ourselves together for the assault on the summit, we puffed our way around a shoulder of the mountain and started down.  It wasn’t as steep on this side so we only managed to start two small slides before reaching a grove of trees where the ground leveled out a bit.  Two of our merry group was ranging out ahead looking for the easiest way through when they suddenly disappeared from view after stepping over a large log.  Carl held up a hand and asked if we had heard that weird bird call: “Sort of a high pitched chirp followed by a gargle” was how he related it to us.

Mystified, we all ran to the log and peered over it.  Both of them were mired up to their knees in black, stinky, goo.  One of them had fallen face first into the swamp but the other was fortunate enough to have fallen on his buddy.  The goo-covered one was frantically trying to rub it off his face and at the same time attempting to stuff his buddy’s face into it.

“OOhhh – Ook.  A Whacha dooin?” cried the ‘clean’ one.

“You’re da one who pushed me over dat log dang it.”

We emptied a canteen cleaning up both of them and started out again downhill.  After a little bit, I asked where our lunch pack was.  Receiving blank stares from everyone in the group we realized we had left it back on the ridge where we had wrapped Gary’s ankle.  Since we didn’t have our lunch pack, we all immediately began getting hunger pains where none existed before.

“Do you really think the girl’s camp is down this way?” I was asked by Gary, “Because if it isn’t, you’re in big trouble.”

I hauled out the map and began comparing the local topography to what was indicated on the map.

“See,” I said.  “Their camp is right at the end of this canyon and we are at the top of the canyon.  All we have to do is go downhill and we are there.”

“What’s this little blue line down the canyon?”

“That’s a creek”

When we parted the trees to investigate the roar from behind them we found a ‘creek’ about thirty feet wide that was hurtling down and over a waterfall about twenty-five feet high.  Our first task was to find some way to get around it and down the canyon.  A few skinned shins and broken fingernails later we were down along a skinny path that followed the ‘creek’.  Ed insisted it was a river, but I stand by my evaluation.

It was with mixed emotions we found a blackberry patch.  On one hand, something to eat was a very welcome thing, but on the other, it tore up our clothes something fierce as we clawed our way through them.  They grew wild completely across the canyon and seemed to go on forever.  Our only recourse was to thrash our way through them.  A couple of our smaller members resorted to crawling on hands and knees along the game trail we were on.

Finally, we emerged, bloody, but unbent (well a couple of us were bent from crawling) into a wide meadow.  As we crossed it I was suddenly overwhelmed with the desire to whistle the Colonel Bogey March – and did so.  I was joined by the rest.  We hobbled, hopped, and walked, but didn’t march at all.

Before we entered the trees we were halted by a shout from one side of the meadow.  There were two cars there, several counselors, and our scoutmaster standing near them.  He waved us over.

“Have fun boys?” he asked with a huge smile on his face.  “Looks like you had some difficulties didn’t you?”

We were a ragged bunch of guys now.  One head bandaged, one ankle bandaged, our trousers looked like they had been attacked by huge moths, two of us were covered with dried swamp goo and the rest of us sported various bungs, dings, and scratches.

I spoke for all of us when I said: “I bet there isn’t any girl’s camp is there?”

“Oh, they’re camped all right, but it’s the OTHER mountain they’re over – not this one.  Did you think we were really that crazy?  We’ve been waiting all day for you to get down off that mountain.”

“You knew where we were?”

“Yep, we could hear you for the last two hours, crashing downhill and all that.”

And that’s why I was politely asked to resign as patrol leader of our troop.

T.O.M.

Mr. Bones, I presume

August 13, 2009

When I was about 11 or so, a couple of my best friends and I were poking around the back of the school as kids are wont to do and came across a rather large box stuck haphazardly in the trash.  It was about five feet long, eighteen inches across and six inches deep.  It was sealed but, when shaken, it had a very interesting rattle.

Mailing labels told us that it was at one time destined for the science department which immediately whetted our curiosity.  All sorts of bizarre guesses as to the contents flew around until one of us thought it might just be best to open it and see what made the noise.  At that, I whipped out my jackknife (nowadays, this item would have set off the metal alarms at the school entrances) and cut carefully across the tape holding the lid.  With great care, we all lifted the lid and peered inside.

“Well, holy cow!” exclaimed Ben.  “It’s a do-it-yourself person!”

Sure enough, inside was a collection of (hopefully) plastic bones which, when joined, would create a skeleton. Cackling gleefully, we resealed the lid and carted off this magnificent treasure to our clubhouse.

For the moment, our clubhouse was under the back porch of my house.  Two sides were paneled in diamond shaped lath while the other two sides were simple cinder blocks forming the kitchen and living room walls.  We had hinged one part of the lath so we could open it.  Our furnishings left a lot to be desired, but it was home to us.

Laying out a large plastic sheet we had found (my mom would periodically ask us if we had seen the kitchen tablecloth) we dumped the contents of the box onto it and began sorting the ‘bones’.  We were soon overwhelmed by the complexity so, after taking care to wrap it back up, we adjourned for sodas all around.

“Man, we’ll never get that back together” opined Cecil.

“Well, I dunno, Cecil.  Maybe if we had a book or a diagram we could figger it out,” I replied.  “I’ll see if I can find something at the school library tomorrow.”

Since it was getting late and time for dinner we broke and I went upstairs.  My mom was just putting the finishing touches on our dinner which, according to my nose, would include a couple of items not in my food group.  Specifically: Brussels sprouts.  To my way of thinking, Brussels sprouts were a food that was grown to specifically to torture kids.  They had no food value I could see, tasted as bad as they smelled, and, if you could manage to choke down a bite or two, they tended to stay with you all night; coming up every once in a while to check and see how fast your gag reflex was.

Over the next few days we managed to wire together most of the bones into a recognizable shape – that of a human being.  Now, if humans were four feet six inches tall, had rounded shoulders, no knees or elbows, then this would be what we looked like inside.

Ben was the first to come up with the name ‘Stoop’.  Stoop it became.  Now that we had Stoop, we turned to the question of what to do with him.  Everyone had an opinion so we began to write them down.  Since we all had younger sisters the list was beginning to take on a decided bent towards letting Stoop scare the beejeebers out of them.  How to do this was kicked around until I thought of the old ironing board mechanism that my dad had taken out of the hall closet.  It was a pantograph sort of thing that sprung out from the board when you touched a button and then you could rotate it flat.  We all agreed this would be perfect.

My dad had a real problem with my and my friends using his tools down in the basement.  He’d get a nervous tic in his cheek every time he heard we had been down there so, in order to spare him from this, we told each other that we would be really careful and not mess with anything we didn’t really need.

The reason my dad had replaced the ironing board was that the spring had broken so we first needed to replace it.  Nothing could be found that was strong enough to actuate the mechanism.  We were stumped until Ben came up with the idea of using a spring we had found out in the woods.  It was about two feet long and very hard to stretch out.  With difficulty we managed to tack each end to the lever system.  Finally, we arrived at the crucial first trial run.  Since the whole lash-up looked a bit strange, we ended up drawing straws for the honor of pushing the button.

“You get the honor of hitting the button Ben,” Cecil said, as he slid to one side and partially behind the furnace.

“Yeah,” I added from the precautionary position behind my dad’s bookcase.

“Oh, come on guys.  This can’t be all tha — AAAAIIIEEEEEEEEH!” as he punched the button.

The flat part which would normally hold the ironing board shot out and pasted Ben smartly against the wall and, once he stopped moving, forced the workbench backward about six inches.  He looked like a fly caught under a huge flyswatter.  All we could see was his head, two arms, and two legs.  The rest was pressed against the wall.

“MAUGH!  PEES HELF MEEEEEEE!” wailed Ben through clenched teeth.

It took the both of us to restrain the spring and lock it back under the latch.

“Mebbe we’d better back off on that spring a bit, eh?” I asked.

“I think that … might be a … good idea” panted Ben, still trying to catch his breath which had rushed out all at once when the board hit him.

We tinkered with the spring, latch, and release mechanism all afternoon until we had it working like we wanted it: enough to make it spring out, but not enough to pin our victim to the wall.  With a little effort, we wired Stoop to a frame where the board would normally be.  It was time to put Stoop into action.  We figured that this would only work once because of the communications network between sisters so we again drew straws.  I won this time.

As we were leaving the basement I happened to spot a can of paint that my dad had used to paint luminous eyes on our Felix the Cat wall clock which hung in the hall outside my brother’s and my bedroom.  Perfect!  I thought and called the guys back.

“Let’s make Stoop glow in the dark!  That should add a little to the surprise.”

We industriously painted all the bones with a ghostly white paint that did indeed glow when we turned off the basement lights.

“Very cool,” we all exclaimed together.

We struggled upstairs with the device and, when the coast was clear, installed Stoop at the back of my sister’s closet.  She keeps all her stuffed animals there on shelves but there was an open area just next to her hanging clothes.  With a little adjusting and rigging a string to the hook on the back of her closet door, we were ready.

All evening after dinner and a short bit of television I wondered when she would open her closet door.  I was dying to know how it would work.  What I didn’t know was that she already had most of her stuffed animals already on her bed and didn’t need to get more from the closet.  I also didn’t know that from time to time she would wake up in the middle of the night to refresh her supply of animals.

I think it was sometime around two in the morning that the still summer air was shattered by a rising-scale shriek that never seemed to end.  All my hair rushed to attention at the noise even as my sleep-fogged brain realized she had finally opened the door.  The cat, who was slumbering peacefully on my chest, arose to the height of around eighteen inches, rotated in a circle, and lit out for the door without touching down once.

“AiiiiEEHHHHahhhhh!” she screamed.  “Oh, hoozit come from da closettttttt”

About that time, my mom had pulled her fingernails from the ceiling and started down the hall followed closely by my dad.  For some reason though, my dad had returned and stopped right in front of MY room while he waited for the verdict from my mom.

“Woo!  What the hell is that?” she yelled from down the hall.  “Get him in here right now!”

With downcast eyes I was propelled down the hall and into my sister’s room.  What greeted me was not really what I had expected.  Apparently, Stoop had managed to open the partially closed door and spring out from his hiding place without any help.  Further, we hadn’t fastened him very securely to the frame.  This meant he was free to catapult across the room and land directly on her bed.  My sister was sitting on the top of her headboard staring with eyes the size of large eggs at the collection of bones lying across the blanket and quivering.

Punctuated by slaps on the butt with The Paddle, I cleaned up the bones, drug the contraption outside, disposed of Stoop’s rather messy remains, and crawled back into bed.

And that is how my sister developed a nervous tick of her own.

T.O.M.

Summary of Life

August 9, 2009

GREAT TRUTHS THAT LITTLE CHILDREN HAVE LEARNED:

No matter how hard you try, you can’t baptize cats.

When your Mom is mad at your Dad, don’t let her brush your hair.

If your sister hits you, don’t hit her back. They always catch the second person.

Never ask your 3-year old brother to hold a tomato.

You can’t trust dogs to watch your food.

Don’t sneeze when someone is cutting your hair.

Never hold a Dust-Buster and a cat at the same time.

You can’t hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.

Don’t wear polka-dot underwear under white shorts.

The best place to be when you’re sad is Grandpa’s lap.

GREAT TRUTHS THAT ADULTS HAVE LEARNED:

Raising teenagers is like nailing jelly to a tree.

Wrinkles don’t hurt.

Families are like fudge…mostly sweet, with a few nuts.

Today’s mighty oak is just yesterday’s nut that held its ground.

Laughing is good exercise. It’s like jogging on the inside.

Middle age is when you choose your cereal for the fiber, not the toy.

GREAT TRUTHS ABOUT GROWING OLD

Growing old is mandatory; growing up is optional.

Forget the health food. I need all the preservatives I can get.

When you fall down, you wonder what else you can do while you’re down there.

You’re getting old when you get the same sensation from a rocking chair that you once got from a roller coaster.

It’s frustrating when you know all the answers but nobody bothers to ask you the questions.

Time may be a great healer, but it’s a lousy beautician.

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.

THE FOUR STAGES OF LIFE:

1) You believe in Santa Claus.

2) You don’t believe in Santa Claus.

3) You are Santa Claus.

4) You look like Santa Claus.

SUCCESS:

At age 4 success is . . . Not piddling in your pants.

At age 12 success is . . . Having friends.

At age 17 success is . . . Having a driver’s license.

At age 35 success is . . . Having money.

At age 50 success is . . . Having money.

At age 70 success is . . . Having a drivers license.

At age 75 success is . . . Having friends.

At age 80 success is . . . Not piddling in your pants.

T.O.M.

Idle thoughts

August 1, 2009

..I planted some bird seed.  A bird came up.  Now I don’t know what to feed it.
…I had amnesia once — or twice.
…I went to San Francisco.  I found someone’s heart.  Now what?
…Protons have mass?  I didn’t even know they were Catholic.
…All I ask is a chance to prove that money can’t make me happy.
..If the world was a logical place, men would be the ones who ride horses sidesaddle.
…What is a “free” gift?  Aren’t all gifts free?
…They told me I was gullible… and I believed them.
…Teach a child to be polite and courteous in the home and, when he grows up, he’ll never be able to merge his car onto the freeway.
…Experience is the thing you have left when everything else is gone.
…One nice thing about egotists: they don’t talk about other people.
…My weight is perfect for my height — which varies.
..I used to be indecisive.  Now I’m not sure.
…The cost of living hasn’t affected its popularity.
…How can there be self-help “groups”?

…If swimming is so good for your figure, how do you explain whales?

…Show me a man with both feet firmly on the ground, and I’ll show you a man who can’t get his pants off.

…Is it my imagination, or do buffalo wings taste like chicken?